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  • Screenwriting As Sex – The Second Act – Foreplay At Its Best

    December 1st, 2014

    By Danny Manus

    Last we left off, you were trying to get laid and made it past the inciting incident, got asked back to her apartment (or you asked him back to your apartment), and while making yourself comfortable and beginning your mission, the first major turning point in your courtship reared its ugly head – she’s got a live-in boyfriend who’s supposedly away for the weekend. But you decide to forge ahead anyway into heavy foreplay – welcome to your Second Act.

    Your Second Act is about progressing your story forward and keeping the audience – or the person you’re with – invested and engaged as you and your character make your way through unforeseen obstacles on your way to the promise land.

    This is where many lesser men (and writers) falter and fail. You (and your character) may be deterred, distracted and even in some way defeated – but you keep going and try to build that momentum and pressure until you just can’t take it anymore.

    As Chris Vogler says, it’s about your “Approach” and the “Ordeal” you need to go through to claim the “Reward.” Ding!

    Without momentum, your second act will stall. And if you can’t build momentum, you allow too many moments where your partner could change her mind and ask you to leave. And the last thing you want when getting it on – is a bathroom moment.  How do you keep momentum? Your scenes (or your movements) need to seamlessly flow into one another. There should be a give and take between your protagonist and antagonist – and between you and your partner.

    This is also where your B Story may be introduced. And throughout your Second Act, you need to come back to this B Story and interweave it through your “A” Storyline so that it pays off in the end.  Perhaps you’re texting your best friend this whole time letting him know what’s up and he’s giving you advice on how not to fuck it up (not that I’ve ever done this). And in the words of the late structure guru Blake Snyder – pgs 30-55 or so is where you have your “fun and games.” So whip out the naked Twister!

    This Second Act is about creating a lot of action – not just talk. Amen, brother! Talking is for the first act – now it’s time for the good stuff! This can’t just be a personal, private journey (unless you’re alone) – but you and your character take the next steps in your arc to reach your objective. And we all know what that is…

    In the first part of your Second Act, your character usually confronts or reveals his worst nightmare – like maybe realizing that chick you’re mackin’ it with has an Adam’s apple.

    But it’s also about courting (compliment her even if you don’t mean it), preparing (breath mint, hand lotion, condom – check, check, check!), complications (like those damn button fly jeans and unfortunate lighting), and going through some sort of test or obstacle (like her saying “this isn’t just a one-night stand, is it?).  And since we all know that half of what a woman says is in what she DOESN’T say, you must use and understand subtext!

    I think Chris Vogler, author of The Writer’s Journey, proves my point about how connected screenwriting structure is with sex as he uses terms to describe the second act like “temptation, synchronicity, discomfort, threshold guardians (you mean, like Trojans?), and the Secret Door” – and we ALLLL know what the Secret Door is!

    Okay, so you’ve reached the midpoint – you’ve past second base and you’re heading towards third. You’re halfway to the big finish. The point of no return. But your midpoint better be exciting and you better show your partner – I mean, your reader – that you know what you’re doing because if you can’t keep their attention here at the midpoint, they might doze off before you reach your climax.

    This midpoint is where the stakes are increased. Physical, emotional, mental – it all gets kicked into high gear. And another wrench is thrown into the mix – maybe she starts to get cold feet.

    At your midpoint, your hands start to make their way south and the pressure mounts. You – and your character – plan your next move. But don’t forget – your B story is also developing – and the bad guys are coming. Maybe that out of town boyfriend isn’t so much out of town.

    Structure guru Marilyn Horowitz says the second half of the Second Act is about what your characters would die for. And every guy in the world knows that if we have to go, we want to go while getting lucky. That IS what we’d die for. So you disregard any red flags or warning signs and you forge ahead.

    Then you need a twist. Something special. I suggest going counterclockwise. Maybe she brings out the handcuffs and blindfolds – twist! Don’t go too far with the twist though just yet – you want a game changer that increases the physical and emotional stakes, but it still needs to be the same game.

    At the third turning point – as you break into your third act – something big happens. Perhaps you (and your hero) find yourself in a moral dilemma (like maybe you realize you’re both pretty wasted). Or perhaps she turns the tables and takes over. Either way…you overcome it.

    Then – as Vogler himself says – it’s time to “Approach the Inmost Cave.”

    Indeed….

    And at this point, you can see your reward – it’s within your sights. So you “seize your sword” and go for it. And through whatever darkness or hairy situations you might encounter, or whatever low point you might reach as you go down into the abyss – you and your character must put an end to your foreplay and persist into your Third Act.

  • Screenwriting As Sex Part 3 – The Third Act: Make Me Climax & Leave Me Satisfied

    December 1st, 2014

    By Danny Manus

    There are many different and often confusing opinions on what the third act is all about and needs to include.

    Blake Snyder said that after the Dark Night of the Soul, you Break into your Third Act on pg 85, have the Finale on pgs 85-110 and then your final image.

    Chris Vogler says the third act is about the Character’s Road Back, his Climax/ Resurrection, and his Return with the Elixir.

    Michael Hauge says the third act is about the Inner and Outer Journey, where the Outer Journey is the story’s final push to reach its goal, how it hits the climax and deals with the aftermath while the Inner Journey is about a character living one’s truth with everything to lose and achieving his destiny having completed his journey.

    And Robert McKee uses a graph with a bunch of squiggly lines and ellipses to basically say the same thing as everyone else.

    But in the end, what happens in your third act is really just a metaphor for a good old fashioned slap and tickle. That’s right…it’s all about making whoopee on the page. Don’t believe me?  Well, just answer these simple, completely sexually-charged questions about your third act…

    –          Was there a build-up and progression of emotional and physical tension until your characters’ instincts and better judgments took over?

    –          Did it lead to a satisfying climax where your characters release everything they have?

    –          Was there an unexpected or surprising twist or moment that makes one look at things differently?

    –          Who was left on top? Was there a winner?

    –          After it’s over, was it worth it and did it leave me satisfied? Or was it just wham, bam, thank you ma’am?

    –          And were there enough moments to make for an engaging or exciting 3 minute movie trailer?

    If your answer to all of these questions is YES, you mostly likely have a strong third act…and a fantastic Friday night.

    If your First Act is all about first impressions, the tease, and the seduction, your Second Act is all about foreplay – starting out with an exciting moment and progressing ahead hot and heavy with your mission – emotionally, mentally and physically.  And then there needs to be a natural build up and flow from the end of foreplay and your Second Act into the start of the Third Act – and you’re on your way home. If the Second Act ends with the hero at their lowest point – on the bottom – then the Third Act is where the hero suddenly comes up with a plan to get back on top.

    Executives don’t care if the climax occurs exactly on page 89 or 94. What they care about is that no matter what genre you are writing (or whom you’re with), you have built up events to an exciting and dynamic point where there’s a great payoff.  The climax has to involve your protagonist – because if your partner is alone and you’re not included – it doesn’t really count, does it? And naturally, your protagonist has to be the key to the climax and success.  It doesn’t count if someone else does it for him.

    The climax must resolve – or at least bring to a head – the main conflict in your story. And it has to be a big moment. All too often, the note executives give is that the climax is just anti-climactic. The resolution is achieved too easily. That’s what she said.

    Missionary is fine, but everyone knows how to do that. Being by-the-book usually isn’t enough. You have to stand out if you want to “work” again. So what makes you special? What’s that special twist in your third act that’s going to wow executives?

    Having those big trailer moments in your climax and third act is crucially important. In a two and a half minute trailer, a solid minute of that is probably going to come from your third act. So if you don’t have enough highlights and great moments in your third act to add up to ONE minute – well…there probably won’t be a sequel.

    Your third act must wrap up not just the main objective of your A storyline, but all of your subplots as well and draw the clear connections between them and how they affect each other for the progression of the story. And it’s where your main protagonist AND your main antagonist resolve their character arcs. They become different people after having gone through what happened between them.

    The final image should be a powerful moment. It’s the last thing the reader or audience is going to experience so you better make it meaningful.  You can use a circular ending where you finish the way you started – perhaps with a romantic kiss? Or you can finish big and go out in a blaze of glory.  But any way you finish, your job is to leave your partner – I mean, audience – feeling an emotion, whatever the correct emotion for the moment might be; love, warmth, security, happiness, anger, emptiness, confusion, etc.

    After the final word, executives must feel like the ride was worth it and that they’d like to do it again. Practice makes perfect, but follow the steps above and you will be one step closer to a finished screenplay and one hell of a good time.

  • Confessons of a Contest Judge: The Differences Between Semifinalists & Winners

    September 9th, 2014

    By Danny Manus

    The last couple weeks I have been judging the semifinal round of the prestigious PAGE Awards in the Horror/Thriller category. It’s my fourth year as one of their judges and I have had a pretty darn good track record in choosing the top scripts, picking the winners 2 out of the last 3 years (this year’s still being decided).

    I know contests can sometimes feel like this vague guessing game to writers. They’re subjective, often inconsistent, some have anonymous readers and judges, and there are SO many out there, each with their own lofty promises and prizes, that it’s hard to know which are worthwhile and which are a waste of $40. And with every year, there are more submissions and increased competition to overcome.

    When I started reading for PAGE just 4 years ago, there were just 4,500 submissions. Now, there are over 6,000. Six thousand writers vying for 31 prizes, including the grand prize of $25,000 and of course all the access and accolades that go along with that. But those are some daunting odds – 31 out of over 6,000. THAT’S how good your script needs to be. And those are better chances than most other contests which only have a couple prize winners and don’t break it down by genre. This is also why submitting to nationally (or worldwide) recognized, prestigious contests have become a launching pad for new talent – because you have to be better than SO many other writers that Hollywood is almost forced to take notice.

    Yes, some good scripts don’t get through that should. And that goes for EVERY contest. I have a couple clients that won or were finalists in one prestigious contest that didn’t get to the quarters of another with the same exact script. It happens. Sometimes it just comes down to the reader and there’s nothing you can do but brush it off and try again next year.

    Contests aren’t a shortcut to getting discovered, but they are one major avenue that didn’t really exist 10 or 15 years ago that writers can use to break in. The prestige and results that winners of the PAGE Awards find, and the level of writing in the semis, is the reason I continue to judge for them (I’ve judged for other smaller contests as well over the years).

    However, the reason I wanted to write this article is to share with you some lessons and trends that I have noticed, especially this year, as well as give you some insight into what judges are looking for when they read and why, perhaps, your script has been a consummate quarterfinalist or semifinalist, instead of a winner.

    A script wins when the right story, writing, character, commerciality, voice, timing, and luck all come together. And you only have control over a few of those, which I know is frustrating. You could write an amazing script, but if it’s exactly like the film that just came out 2 weeks ago, you’re probably not going to win.

    Semifinalists are scripts with really strong writing and story and resonance for a reader. Winning scripts just have that something extra. They don’t read like a contest script – they read like a professionally written Hollywood film that just hasn’t been made yet. There are a LOT of really GOOD scripts out there. Winning scripts feel like films.

    I can’t speak for other categories, but every year in the horror/thriller section, there are clear trends that stand out. This DOES NOT mean that judges or readers are looking for any specific type of story – especially since there are so many different readers involved before the 25 semifinalist scripts make their way to my desk. Some of it may relate to what is commercial in the marketplace, but it really just comes down to the writing and hook on the concept.

    My first year, the trend was clear – zombies, vampires and werewolves. Those 3 types of stories made up for at least 10 of the 25 semifinalists (the winner that year, by the way, was MAGGIE which comes out this November and stars Arnold Schwarzenegger and Abigail Breslin).

    The following year, there was an increase in creature features of the non-vampire/werewolf variety and that seemed to be the trend. Last year there were more supernatural projects and found footage stories, as well as a higher number of thrillers than horror.

    This year, the trends were glaring and possibly clearer than ever before…

    By FAR the biggest trend this year…was children. 13 out of the 25 scripts were based around kids being kidnapped, murdered, brutalized, and/or needing to be saved from something. Add three MORE to that list if including the unborn, older teens, or adult children of the protagonist.

    That is a HUGE number. And I think the reason is pretty clear. It’s not because the judges are sadistic or are enjoy reading about murdered children – believe me, that’s NOT the case as some were very hard to read no matter how well-written. The reason is because what could create higher stakes or more fear or emotional resonance than a missing, abused or murdered child? What could make for a stronger and more relatable motivation for a protagonist than trying to rescue their child or seeking vengeance for their death?

    There have always been “evil child” movies and they’ve always done well. But after the success of films like Taken (and its sequels), Prisoners, Gone Baby Gone, Lovely Bones, Insidious, etc., films about children as victims instead of being the evil entity themselves, are also succeeding. And this year, they have clearly succeeded in this category.

    Along the same lines, the second biggest trend this year was REVENGE. It was the guiding motivation, theme or driving force behind 12 of this year’s semifinalists. In thrillers and horror, revenge is always popular, and it was exploited in different ways in this year’s offerings. Revenge by the hero, revenge by the antagonist, revenge by society. It’s an emotion everyone can grasp and get behind. What makes it stand out is HOW it’s used – not why.

    Trend number 3 was a massive increase in the brutality of the action and gore contained in this year’s scripts. In a year where 15 scripts involved children or teen victims, the amount of sheer brutality and detail involved was sometimes a bit shocking.

    Brutality is different than “torture porn”, however, which hasn’t been selling for a few years. The difference between brutality and torture porn is purpose, context and literary quality, which can often bring out one’s voice. Torture porn is about finding new disgusting, extreme ways of torturing or killing people or ripping off their body parts for gruesome shock effect. It’s about resonance on a visual scale.

    Brutality is often about resonance on an emotional scale. It often makes you uncomfortable or makes you cringe – but not scream. It could be the same repeated simple action – a punch to the face – but when done 15 times, the description of the consequences of that punch become increasingly brutal and visceral. That being said, I feel like many writers were trying to get their Tarantino on this year – and for some it paid off, and for others it really didn’t.

    The final two story trends aren’t new, but combined made up for about 6 of the 25 scripts. These are – Military experiments gone wrong; and haunted locations. What’s odd is that the haunted locations were all the same type of location, and the “creatures” were all somewhat similar, which for me, made the scripts harder to stand out despite some very nice writing.

    When it comes to similar concepts, what makes them stand out is the originality in hook and voice. Sometimes the hook is related to the location or time period, sometimes it’s what the characters must accomplish or how or why they must accomplish it, sometimes it’s the characters themselves, and sometimes it’s the combination of two hooks that really elevate a project and make it different than the others. That was definitely the case with some of the stronger scripts this year.

    Another very interesting trend this year wasn’t so much story related, but structure. It felt like some writers hoped that judges would only read the first 20 pages and the last 10, and that is NOT the case. We read every word. There were a large number of scripts that had an AMAZING first 15-20 pages – but just couldn’t keep up that level of skill or consistency in tone, voice or plot throughout the rest of the script. You need to make sure that you’re not just starting strong with a great set-up, but that you have an EQUALLY strong execution and pay-off throughout the script. Keep in mind, writers – EVERY sequence needs to be as strong as your opening and closing sequences.

    At the end of the day, it comes down to the X-Factor. The voice. That THING writers have where you know it when you read it, and it just jumps out at you and grabs you (often) immediately. It’s a gut reaction and connection I get to scripts and the writing, and after doing this for over a decade and reading and evaluating many thousands of scripts, my instincts on voice and story are pretty darn strong.

    Sure, I look for strong complex characters with strong goals, motivations, and deeper needs and flaws. Sure, I look at the originality of the concept and hook on that concept and how that is brought out in the story. Sure, I look at the dialogue and if it flows and feels natural and genuine and tight and powerful and if it’s full of personality and DISTINCT character voices. Sure, I look at transitions and themes and structure and if the script moves well and is an easy, enjoyable read. And sure, I take into consideration if it’s something that could sell or garner attention in the marketplace or by a manager or agent. But then there’s the X-Factor. The question I ask myself is – if you had to stake your name and reputation on a handful of these scripts, which ones would they be? Those are my top choices.

    The past two years have been MUCH harder to judge and pick a winner than the first two years where it was pretty darn obvious (to me) who the winners were. Why? Well, with the increased number of submissions, it really is the cream of the crop rising to the semifinals. My first two years, I was scoring scripts in the 50s and 60s. This year, 73 was the lowest score I gave.

    For the first time, I could probably count on two hands the number of typos I found between ALL 25 scripts! That was NOT the case 3 years ago, believe me! It’s certainly not the MOST important thing, but if you’re not meticulously proofreading your scripts and making sure your formatting is professional, it may be the thing that keeps you from advancing to the later rounds. I’ve got 2600 pages to read – your job as a writer is to make reading them easier and fun.

    This year, it was a hard choice as all of the top scripts were executed well, but I am very content with my picks. I was so pleased with the quality of the writing this year and I look forward to seeing what takes home the big prize.

    In the meantime, good luck and keep writing!

    ***If you are a perennial quarter or semi-finalist, I encourage you to check out my services page and sign up for my 4-Week online course “Create More Compelling, Castable Characters” – guaranteed to help you create stronger, more elevated characters and stories to help get your scripts to the next level. Begins Sept 26th! Click here for more details – www.compellingcharacters.eventbrite.com

  • 4 Types of Depression

    August 12th, 2014

    I hope you’ll excuse this long, somewhat depressing post that has nothing to do with screenwriting, but in the wake of Robin Williams’ death, I felt it important and maybe it will shed some light on things….

    Depression is a claimer of hearts, bodies and souls. I believe there are 4 types of depression. The first is the fleeting, momentary type everyone in the world experiences over tiny little stupid normal life things. The second is the slightly more prolongued type of depression where something specific happens and it makes you want to sleep, stop eating (or eat more), curl up and cry, and be left alone for days but you know eventually you’ll snap out of it and get over what’s happened. Most people will experience this a few times in their life.

    The third type is more clinical. It’s like type #2 but it doesn’t take a sad acute event to bring on – it can just hit. And it hits hard, and it sometimes hits often. There are triggers, but you couldn’t list them. It’s a depression that lingers with you at lower levels even in happy times, and then flares up like a virus to take you down. And sometimes it feels like it has and you’re not sure you’ll ever shake it. You feel lost and sad and hopeless, but you know somewhere deep inside there’s something worth fighting and living for…

    But the 4th type of depression most people will never know, and thank God for that. Because once you’re inside the 4th type of depression, it’s already too late. Relief no longer comes from seeing the faces of your family or friends or playing with your pet or being great at your job. It doesn’t come from fame or fortune. It doesn’t even come from drugs or alcohol or rehab or therapy. It comes from death.  It’s not about the laughs you’ve had or brought to others, or the love you’ve experienced or given, or what might be waiting for you tomorrow. You can no longer focus on how other people will feel once you’re gone – only how YOU will feel once you’re gone. Relief….

    For reasons we may never fully know or understand, a great shining talent like Robin Williams found himself at Type 4 Depression. He’s not alone. If you feel you are slipping into Type 4, call a hotline, call a doctor, seek out help before it’s too late. That is all.

  • The Network TV BloodBath Analysis (Part 1 of 3)

    May 21st, 2014

    by Danny Manus (TV Whore)

    The last two weeks have made the network TV landscape ironically resemble an episode of Game of Thrones. The blood and guts of writer’s hard work spewed everywhere as we say quite a few shocking goodbyes while a little person bangs a hooker in the corner. Okay, well maybe not that last part.

    As the networks plan for the upcoming 2014-2015 season, hard choices and painful decisions must be made. There’s only so much time and so much money, and so much attention span viewers have. Because of that, over 40 shows were cancelled from the big four networks with 22 cancellations coming in the last two weeks. Some deservedly so, some somewhat expected, and some utterly unfortunate and disappointing.

    I will address the network’s new offerings in a different article. But as someone who wastes far too much time getting hooked to network shows just to see them disappear 3, 8, 13 or 22 episodes later, the least I could do is tell the networks why they are wrong and how they could have saved the shows they seemed so high on a year ago. Or why they never should have been on in the first place. Or what should’ve been cancelled instead. As always, I don’t write about the CW because I don’t watch anything on the network and, well, who gives a shit?

    NBC –

    Total Cancelled Shows: 12

    Community, Revolution, Dracula, Crisis, Believe, Ironside, Camp, Growing Up Fisher, Welcome to the Family, Sean Saves the World, Michael J. Fox Show, Million Dollar Quiz

    The Breakdown:

    Perhaps their fates were written on the wall, but there were a few winners in this pile that could have been saved…ya know, if I were running the world. Then again, I didn’t want them to cancel Smash.

    Community – I get the reasons for and against, and yes it’s a cult show. But basically everything on networks these days survive with smaller but rabid cult followings. And this past season, for the most part, was pretty brilliant and back to its glory days. If you didn’t see their GI Joe episode, you’re missing one of the best 30 minutes of comedy all year. We will miss you, Greendale. I would’ve given it another 13 episode season to go along with Parks & Rec.

    Revolution – I DVR this show and find myself begrudgingly binge-watching it and fast-forwarding through half of it. The concept got too tedious and it felt like even the writers weren’t sure what it was about anymore. But it was the time slot change that killed it.

    Crisis – This show could’ve worked. Should have worked. The problem? They made Gillian Anderson play 4th banana behind TV Show Killer Rachael Taylor. This is her 4th show and 4th cancellation in 4 seasons. Why do people keep casting her? If Gillian Anderson had been the lead, people would have cared. And if Dermot Mulroney wasn’t billed as the lead yet so awkward to watch as a bad guy, the show could’ve connected more. A great cast wasted; a decent concept that didn’t have enough legs.

    Believe – It just wasn’t as good or interesting as Resurrection and they went head to head with similar themes. I never made it past the pilot.

    Welcome to the Family – Of the THREE shows about stupid teenagers who get pregnant, this was the most schmaltzy. I loved Mike O’Malley and Mary McCormick, but a Latina teenager getting pregnant and keeping it is hardly earth-shattering original TV.

    Sean Saves the World – I like Sean Hayes. I really do. But as the sidekick. And I love Megan Hilty. I really do. But I love her more when she sings and gets to be sexy instead of playing off someone who is clearly not going to find her sexy. It was painful to watch. Glad it’s gone.

    Michael J. Fox Show – This should have been given more of a chance. A funny show with an obvious hook, it didn’t know exactly what it wanted to be about. It tried to make it less about MJF’s disability, but those were the jokes that were the funniest.  NBC paid a hefty price for cancelling it. Literally I am surprised this didn’t last longer. So was Michael.

    Growing Up Fisher – There was only ONE problem with this show and her name is Jenna Elfman. This show was cute and funny at times, but the promos were vague, the posters told us nothing about the hook, and Jenna Elfman being married to a blind J.K. Simmons is about as believable as… Jenna Elfman being married to a blind J.K. Simmons. Plus the little Asian kid had the worst teeth on TV and was really hard to watch. If they had cast it better, this could have been a hit. But seriously – give J.K. Simmons something else, cause I’ll watch it.

    Should’ve Been Cancelled Instead: Is there anything left?  Parks and Rec and Parenthood each have one more 13-episode season and then they’re gone. How many hours of Hollywood Game Night can you possibly show?

    New Hits: The Blacklist, About A Boy, Chicago PD. Big fan of all these shows. Glad they’re giving About A Boy another shot. It’s not a hit at all, but it’s good enough to try again.

    Summary: With a little help from The Voice, Blacklist, Sunday Night Football and the Olympics, NBC landed at the #1 spot again. Amazing, considering they cancelled more shows this year than any other network. But they have strong branded, tested shows like SVU and Chicago Fire still burning strong and a nice crossover companion show with Chicago PD. Basically, after 25 years, NBC traded in NY for Chi-town and it seems to be working. Going 1/10 in the hit department isn’t something to be proud of. But at the end of the day, the only show cancelled that will be missed for more than 10 minutes is Community.

    Next, in Part 2, I cover CBS….

  • The Network TV BloodBath Analysis (Part 2 of 3)

    May 21st, 2014

    By Danny Manus (TV Whore)

    CBS –

    Total Cancelled Shows: 7

    The Crazy Ones, Hostages, Intelligence, Friends with Better Lives, We Are Men, Bad Teacher, and How I Met Your Mother (ended run)

    The Breakdown:

    CBS knows its audience, and while they attempt to try new things, it rarely works for them. I’ll be honest – the only CBS shows I watch are The Good Wife, Amazing Race, Survivor (though I skipped this season), Blue Bloods, Mom (which I’ll discuss in a moment), and the now defunct HIMYM. But with the success of Elementary and their CSI/NCIS world, they don’t need to change much. And they’re not going to.

    There’s only one show that was cancelled that I really take issue with –

    The Crazy Ones – Robin Williams led a pitch-perfect (no pun intended) cast that had one of the best chemistries in comedy. Their gag reels at the end of the episode were worth watching the whole show for. And they truly seemed like they were having fun, which translated onto the screen into each episode. I think it was far too heavy on the promotional tie-ins and obvious corporate sponsorship, but the writing was really strong and the improv was even stronger. I will miss this show and hope its cast find new comedies quickly, especially James Wolk and Hamish Linklater.

    As for the others…

    Hostages – Wonderful pilot, strong second episode. But man did it go down the shitter from there. If it was any longer than 15 episodes, I would have hurt someone. This was an 8 episode show stretched to 15 that wishes it could have been like 24, but really wasn’t. Thank God Almighty, I’m free at last!

    Friends With Better Lives – After James Van Der Beek’s HILARIOUS turn on Don’t Trust the Bitch in Apartment 23, he proved his comedic chops. But this show wasted every single one of them. Kevin Connolly looked uncomfortable, Zoe Lister-Jones is quickly becoming the Rachael Taylor of sitcoms, and Brooklyn Decker…well, who cares? She’s Brooklyn friggin’ Decker and I’ll watch her do anything. But these friends didn’t seem to actually have better lives. Hope to find the Beek on a better sitcom very soon!

    How I Met Your Mother – I want to stroke its head and tell it, “You weren’t cancelled, little baby, you just ended. And we’ll always love you. Even if some nasty people hated your last episode.” This is a show that will be missed by viewers, by the network, and by its producers especially now that their spinoff has not been picked up (possibly the biggest CBS shocker of the year). So long, Robin Sparkles. So long, Barney!

    Should’ve Been Cancelled Instead – Nothing jumps out, but I could do with one less NCIS.

    New Hits – One of my favorite new comedies – MOM. It’s not full-on comedy – it has a lot of drama and heart mixed in with raunchy fun and inappropriateness. But man, I love the way they do it. I will watch anything with Allison Janney, and I love that they are bringing this show back. I also love that the daughter actually gave away the baby. We’re The Millers has also become a hit, though I stopped watching a few episodes in. Lucky for them, they are owned by CBS. It’s not bad, it’s just very….CBS. It’s the same reason I don’t watch any of their other comedies anymore. Under the Dome is a big summer hit, though I didn’t think it was as strong in the end as it was in the beginning.

    Summary – Unlike the other networks, CBS has strong 10pm shows that anchor their nights better than any other. Hawaii 5-0, Elementary, The Mentalist, Person of Interest, Blue Bloods, NCIS, CSI, etc. They know their audience. None of these shows are Emmy-worthy (though The Good Wife deserves one for this season’s shocker), but they get the job done. The execs have it pretty easy over at CBS, where their biggest change is going to be losing Letterman. Though I’m sure next year will be the end for Mike & Molly since Melissa McCarthy has grown too big for her britches. Metaphorically speaking, of course.

    Stay tuned for Part 3 – FOX AND ABC!

  • The Network TV BloodBath Analysis (Part 3 of 3)

    May 21st, 2014

    FOX –

    Total Cancelled Shows – 7

    Almost Human, Surviving Jack, Rake, Enlisted, Raising Hope, Dads, X-Factor

    The Breakdown

    Some were happily put out of their misery, but there are 2 that could have been saved and salvaged…

    Surviving Jack – Fox never gave this show its proper chance. Chris Meloni and Rachel Harris were hilarious. This show had some of the nostalgia factor of The Goldbergs, some of the harshness of Married with Children, and some of the hilarity of…watching Christopher Meloni be a dad. I wasn’t convinced by the first episode, but I stuck with it and ended up really enjoying it. If it had a better lead-in and time slot, this show could’ve connected. Meloni deserved better after the courtship Fox and the producers went through to get him on the show.  Jack, I hardly knew ye. Chris Meloni and J.K. Simmons should be in a comedy together.

    Almost Human – Loved the first 2 episodes, but it quickly got stale for me. I didn’t care enough to keep watching, though I know it had a loyal fan base. It wasn’t as big a hit as Sleepy Hollow so they cancelled it, but they could’ve given it another shot – probably would’ve worked better on Friday nights than Mondays.

    Rake – Great pilot if you live in LA. Totally lost me (and about 4 million other people) in episode 2.

    Raising Hope – Consistently one of the funniest shows on TV, but after a while I guess it was time to go. They should be proud of their run and I was happy to watch most of it.

    X-Factor – I based my company on Simon Cowell but I am SO happy to see this go away. They never had more than 2 talented acts in 3 seasons, Simon Cowell wasn’t mean enough and seemed truly bored, and Britney, LA Reid, Kelly Rowland  and whoever that Shakira-wannabe was were all painful to watch. Not to mention the awful hosts. I’m sorry, but Mario Lopez is no Seacrest. The only saving grace to this show for me was Demi Lovato.  Good riddance to bad talent.

    Should’ve Been Cancelled InsteadGlee, The Following, The Mindy Project.

    Glee – This season should have been the end. Once Cory died, the heart of the show died too. Ryan Murphy brought in this whole new cast of wannabe stars, one more awful than the next – and the audience HATED them. So then he changed the show back to the original cast and mixed it up. Now, it’s like the newbies never existed (a waste of 13 awful episodes) and it’s no longer about a glee club – it’s about making it NY. Hello, why don’t you just call it FAME! This show doesn’t HAVE another 22 episodes in it, it’s painful these days and if the rumors are true and Naya Rivera was fired, I’m officially Gleeked Out. Done. This series could have had a GREAT wrap-up and send-off this season. Instead, it’s staying past its welcome.

    The Mindy Project – This show never knew what it wanted to be. I like Mindy Kaling, but I honestly don’t like watching her in a lead role. I find her funny, but annoying. She’s not pretty, but she’s not ugly. The supporting cast has changed more times than the host of the Oscars. And even though some say it’s gotten better, I just don’t see what the network sees in this show.

    The Following – I don’t know how or why I got through this season, but it wasn’t even close to the first season. It was awful. There’s not really anywhere else to go with it, and if you counted the body count of the first two seasons, it would easily be the most murderous show in the history of network TV. Hundreds killed. The first season was really good, the second season was ridiculous, the third season – it shouldn’t happen.

    New HitsSleepy Hollow, Brooklyn Nine Nine. Sleepy Hollow isn’t my type of show, so I’ve never seen it but I LOVE Brooklyn Nine Nine. What a great new comedy – consistently hilarious and a great ensemble. I love that this show connected, though with its new move to Sunday nights next season, I worry about it a little bit. Fox, please PLEASE don’t fuck it up.

    Summary – Fox needs some MAJOR new hits and quick. With X-Factor gone, American Idol more of a utility player than star attraction, and The New Girl taking a huge (and painful) hit both creatively and in its ratings, Fox needs a win. They only have 7 live-action shows left (plus 3 animated, plus Idol) and Glee is already set to end next season. Plus Bones, The Following, and Mindy Project probably won’t make it past one more season.  But they have some huge new shows and “events” coming next season. So, I’m crossing my fingers for them.

     

    ABC

    Total Cancelled Shows – 12

    Trophy Wife, Suburgatory, Mixology, Super Fun Night, Once Upon A Time in Wonderland, Mind Games, Lucky 7, Killer Women, Betrayal, Back in the Game, The Assets, The Neighbors

    The Breakdown

    I’m not sure if you can call them cancelled if they only lasted 2 episodes. They barely qualify as “aired,” which is the case with 4 of these shows. There are some wonderful comedies in the above list that should have been kept and given more of a shot. There were some awful time slot choices and some awful promotions involved. But also some awful shows. But if any network made me mad this season, it’s ABC! Now feel my vengeance.

    I’ll be honest – at least 9 of these shows deserved what they got.

    Super Fun Night – If I wanted to watch an obnoxious fat girl try to get laid, I’d go back on JDate.  I don’t get Rebel Wilson’s appeal. She’s mildly funny but she’s a cheap Melissa McCarthy knock-off. There, I said it. Not because there can’t be two funny fat chicks on TV, but because Rebel’s slapstick shtick gets stale after 2 episodes. In this case, it was old after 10 minutes. I feel bad for Liza Lapira who is also on her 4th cancelled sitcom in 4 years.

    Suburgatory – This show was great, then less great, then good again, then not so much. Perhaps it is its inconsistency that was its downfall. It had a strong voice at first, but that faded into weekly wacky sitcom situations. It had a decent run, but The Goldbergs needs its time slot and there is nowhere else to put it.

    Mixology – I really enjoyed this show. Maybe I’m alone, but I thought it was different, it had potential, I laughed out loud every episode and the cast was really interesting and funny. The casting directors did a great job finding NEW talent! Were there a couple lamer episodes? Maybe. But I really liked the structure of the show. Of course, I’m not sure where the second season would take it, but this show deserved a better shot and another chance.  I hope to see the cast in other shows very soon. The writers were the original writers of The Hangover – the ones who actually SOLD the script – and don’t get nearly as much credit as they deserve.

    Trophy Wife – I may miss you most of all, scarecrow. I thought I’d hate this show. And at first, I didn’t love it. But it really grew on me. Malin Ackerman was actually funny, Bradley Whitford is always wonderful, and even the horribly annoying Michaela Watkins started to warm my heart. But the funniest members of the cast were the two kids, Warren and Bert. As the season went on, they got better and better. This show SHOULD have aired after Modern Family – it was the perfect fit. But for some ungodly reason, they never put it there. This show was on the bubble in the truest sense, and looking at some of ABC’s new comedic offerings next season, they are going to regret cancelling this show. Fare thee well, Bert.

    Should’ve Been Cancelled – All of ABCs remaining shows are pretty strong, and I’m really glad they gave Nashville another shot. I’m not sure why it’s not connecting as well as it should.

    New HitsMarvel Agents of Shield, The Goldbergs, Resurrection and Scandal. ABC landed in 4th place, but had the most successful new shows. Scandal isn’t a NEW hit, but man has it taken off even more – and I love it. The Goldbergs is hilarious nostalgic fun and it really hits home. I’m so glad it’s coming back. Agents of Shield lost me. I watched the first 6 or 7, then kinda realized I was watching it for the wrong reasons and not because I liked it. Resurrection had one of the best pilots of the year and it’s still interesting enough to keep my attention. If you’re writing a show with religious elements, that’s the pilot to watch to learn how to do it right.  And all of ABCs other shows are solid – Grey’s (yes, I still watch it!), Revenge, Castle, and Modern Family, though the latter two have not been nearly as strong as previous seasons. But to have 3 breakout hits and the #1 social media-obsessed show on the air is a pretty solid distinction ABC can take to the bank.

    Summary – The problem with ABC is either they launch massive hits or truly awful bombs. There is no middle with ABC. Their shows either last many years or 3 episodes. ABC is going through a new regime and they are swinging big next season, but they’ve done pretty well despite being #4. Their shows are well-liked, they just get watched more in DVR+7 than live. Let’s be honest, if the NFL didn’t exist, ABC would not be #4.

  • Don’t Heigl Yourself

    March 27th, 2014

    By Danny Manus

    I’ll admit it. I love Grey’s Anatomy. Have from the first episode. I even stuck in there for those couple of crappy seasons (much like I did with ER).  And sometimes, since I have a home office, I watch the repeats of Grey’s on Lifetime at 1pm. Yup, I said it. Don’t judge.

    And you know what thought constantly reverberates while watching the older episodes?

    Poor Katherine Heigl.

    Katherine Heigl was Jennifer Lawrence before there was a Jennifer Lawrence. She was womanly, curvy, bubbly and beautiful, doe-eyed, quirky and smart, a strong actress who put craft before looks, and she was imminently likable. She was poised to be the next big thing. America’s Sweetheart with a slight edge – just how we like ‘em.

    The next big TV breakout star that would cross over into film much like predecessors Jennifer Anniston, George Clooney, Will Smith, Michelle Williams, Will Ferrell, Steve Carrell, etc.

    And at first, she played her cards perfectly. Her agents knew how to make her a star. She stayed quiet for a couple years, focusing on her TV work and building her sweet but sexy public persona. She won the Emmy in 2007 for Best Supporting Actress. And then while still on Grey’s, she filmed her breakout film role in Knocked Up, an R-rated comedy that connected with her target demographic but also made her seem cooler than her Grey’s character. And it was a huge hit.

    She followed that up with 27 Dresses, a more down the middle but funny and relatable romcom hit which grossed over $100M. She proved she could open a movie and was now the next big thing. She was on top of the world…right?

    Funny thing happens when you’re on top of the world. There’s only one way left to go.

    It all started with some public rants criticizing her co-stars and the writing staff of the show that won her an Emmy and made her a star. She angered her bosses and the people who put words in her mouth every week and so they turned on her, made her character an unlikable psychotic shrew with brain cancer who broke up marriages and then they wrote her off the show. She started being labeled as “difficult,” which is the only label in Hollywood you can’t shake.

    You can be a drug addict, a whore, a mental case or a talentless hack…but the one thing you can’t be is DIFFICULT. Diva behavior only works until your first failure. And then you’re just a bitch no one wants to work with. And guess what happened?

    Killers, Life as We Know It, One for the Money, and The Big Wedding. Each film a bigger flop than the last. And suddenly, not only was sweet Katie Heigl difficult, but she was box office Kryptonite.

    She tried playing it tough, she tried playing it sweet, she tried making up with Shonda Rhimes in the press. She even adopted an Asian baby.  But none of it worked.  Now, she’s starring in a TV movie and a commercial for a sleep aid.

    And you know who is responsible for this? Her mother. Or should I say, “Momager.”

    Notoriously known throughout Hollywood as being not only a horrible person (and business person) to deal with, but also an awful arbiter of taste, Katherine’s mother Nancy Heigl is the worst kind of parent. The kind who wants all the credit and thinks she knows best in every situation. And instead of listening to her agents or the rest of her team, Katherine fired them all, stuck by her mom, and made her a producing partner. In short, she Heigl’d herself.

    And it’s unfortunate because if you go back to the first 4 seasons of Grey’s, you will see a woman who deserved to be a big star and by all accounts should still be one.

    This doesn’t JUST go for actors, but here are some tips on how to make sure you never Heigl yourself:

    • You are your own brand.  First impressions matter big time. But you’re only as good (and as liked) as your last impression.
    • Never bite the hand that feeds you even if you see a bigger hand waiting with food.
    • Never burn a bridge you don’t know for sure you can rebuild – or that can be rebuilt without you.
    • Your mother should be your MOTHER. Ask her questions, take her suggestions, and then tell her to Fuck Off and listen to the professionals who do this for a living. The only successful Momager is Kris Jenner…and do you really wanna be a Kardashian?
    • Build buzz for your career in positive ways. Be endearing, quirky, and funny.  It’s okay to stick your foot in your mouth, as long as you do it in an adorable way.
    • Strike when the iron is hot, but don’t go too outside your comfort zone/demographic on your first project. Whatever your first hit movie role is, you’re going to have to play in that genre for a couple of years so get used to it and don’t badmouth it. But each role should expand your demographic slightly.
    • After you’ve had 2 or 3 modest to major successes, it’s time to branch out and do something against type to show just how much range you have. A dark indie, an action franchise, host SNL, etc.
    • Keep your fucking mouth shut in the press about any topics not related to whatever you’re promoting. Unless you’re Sean Penn or George Clooney, no one gives a shit what you think about foreign politics.
    • Your PR person is the most important asset you have. If she disagrees with your mother, fire your mother.
    • Surround yourself with people who have better taste than you do.
    • Be nice. Be cordial. Be self-deprecating without seeming too self-conscious. Don’t take yourself too seriously. Learn the crew’s names. Respect the writer.
    • Make it seem like you actually enjoy it and are grateful. We can tell if you’re not.
    • Never get bored. Always be learning. Always be improving.

     

  • What Happens in Vegas Ends Up On the Page

    March 17th, 2014

    By Danny Manus

    One of the greatest themes explored in film is SIN. One of the tenets of a cinematic story is making it VISUAL and keeping the ACTION going. And one of the greatest things a writer can do to further their career, is continue to LEARN.

    What better place in the world to bring these three things together than Las Vegas?

    That’s why I will be returning to the Las Vegas Writer’s Conference for my third time on April 24-27th.  The conference, given by the Henderson Writers Group, is perfect for book or film writers and allows participants to take seminars, workshops, network, take pitch meetings with literary pros, and of course – enjoy all that Vegas has to offer.

    And if there is a town that can inspire excitement, originality, adventure, and interesting characters…it’s Vegas!

    I’m delighted to have been asked back and will be teaching two all-new courses; Writing Your Natural Story and Creating Compelling, Castable Characters.

    The first course will go through the nature vs. nurture of a script, explore story pitfalls, how to recognize when your story has gone awry, and how to make sure your story goes in the right direction. We’ll go through exercises that will ensure you’re always writing your natural story. And most importantly for book writers, we’ll discuss how the correct way to “write what you know” and the principles of adapting a book or true story to film.

    In the characters course, we’ll go through 10 great specific exercises to creating compelling, castable protagonists and antagonists and we’ll examine the 12 elements of strong, three-dimensional characters. We’ll also discuss how to create interesting antagonists and supporting characters.

    And perhaps my favorite thing about this conference is the first pages panel, where participants submit the first couple pages of their book (or script) and a panel of executives and agents listen as they are read and raise their hand when they would have passed. And then we critique the pages we’ve heard. It is a great way to get a guttural first reaction from professionals to know if your first pages are going to get past the reader. And it’s usually a good amount of fun too.

    I hope to see you all there April 24-27th. For more info and to register, go to http://lasvegaswritersconference.com/.

    And in case you haven’t been convinced yet, the last time I went to this conference, at least one best-selling author wound up in the trunk of a car. What happens in Vegas…

     

  • Were Screenwriters Dissed at This Year’s Oscars?

    March 3rd, 2014

    By Danny Manus

    Since last night’s Oscars ceremony, there has been a lot of chatter by writers (both pro and amateur) on social media that screenwriters were all but forgotten in the telecast and in the winner’s speeches. I even got an email this morning from a client wondering why those responsible for the stories aren’t being appreciated by Hollywood anymore.

    In response to this, I have two answers.

    First – while Robert De Niro’s somewhat insulting and stereotypical introduction to the Best Screenplay Oscar didn’t help, I don’t think writers WERE forgotten from the telecast. They received their Oscars like everyone else in every other category. They weren’t dismissed any more than production designers or editors were. Screenwriters are hardly ever the FOCUS of the Oscars – it’s a night based around the actors, directors and films themselves. If it wasn’t for the WGA, the Screenplay awards would probably be given out at the Creative Arts Ceremony.

    That being said, my second point is that the lack of mention of the writing and writers from the winners last night I think illuminated something painfully obvious in the films nominated…the writing wasn’t THAT great.

    Sometimes it’s the powerful words on the page that elicit fantastic performances from actors. And sometimes, it’s the fantastic and powerful performances from the actors that bring the words on the page to life. And in 2013, I dare say it was the latter that occurred.

    Looking at the projects that won big last night, Gravity and Dallas Buyers Club specifically, these were not movies driven by story or script. These were not films driven by powerful dialogue. These were films driven by powerful performances and technical achievement. In Dallas, let’s be honest – it wasn’t the words McConaughey or Leto said that made that movie special – it was the WAY they said them and their immersion in their roles. And that’s not due to the writer.

    In Gravity’s case, it was a film driven by the DIRECTOR’S vision and technical handling of the material and how that skill created a movie-going experience unlike any other. But no one thought Gravity had a very strong story or script.

    American Hustle went home empty handed (which was fine by me) and its biggest criticism was that while the PERFORMANCES were great, and the world was original, the actual story and plot wasn’t very strong. It had style and voice, but not much substance. It had a few powerful scenes, but it was Amy Adams and Jennifer Lawrence that made those words shine.

    The Wolf of Wall Street was a much loved movie with some great dialogue and memorable scenes and performances. In fact, it probably has the most quotable lines of any nominated film. But with more F-bombs than any other film in history, an often muddy theme, and a story that seemed to end three different times in its 3-hour plus running time, the script was seen as overwritten and could have been tighter.

    In Blue Jasmine, because of all the negative media attention Woody Allen has been receiving, people wanted to play it safe and just focus on Cate Blanchett’s masterful delivery of the words and emotional turns instead of the writing itself.

    Then there’s 12 Years a Slave. It won for Best Picture and Best Adapted Screenplay but because of the drama behind the scenes, writer John Ridley and Director Steve McQueen didn’t even mention each other in their speeches. There are sometimes a lot of politics in screenwriting. John Ridley has a history of writing scripts that get completely rewritten and then arbitrating for credit, which brings up another major point for why screenwriters perhaps aren’t being as well-respected anymore.

    Every script is rewritten. A lot. Sometimes by many different writers (or producers or executives or directors or actors) to the point where the original script is barely recognizable and the original writer getting credit often isn’t the one who wrote the best lines. And because Hollywood knows this, they have stopped celebrating the writer the way they used to.

    It’s not that ANYONE can just write a great script. But it often takes a village to create one these days. The only projects that get made with only the single original writer working on the script are ones where the writer is also the director, producer or star. So how do you celebrate a screenwriter who only wrote maybe 50% of a script while everyone else gets nothing (but a paycheck) for their efforts?

    In addition to this, the majority of films produced and released these days are based on already existing properties (books, comics, TV shows, etc.) that get adapted by a team of writers. I’m not saying it’s easier to adapt than write an original project – it’s a very different and equally important skill – but when the spine of the story, the characters and even some of the dialogue is already written, which writer do you celebrate?

    Two of the best written scripts of the year (in my opinion) – Her and Philomena – were films that weren’t going to win the big prize and didn’t make as much money as some of the others so they didn’t get the attention they deserved. I’m thrilled that Her won – it deserved to. Of all the scripts, it had perhaps the most insightful dialogue and the most memorable, quotable lines. But for most of the other memorable lines of 2013, you’d have to look outside the 9 nominated films.

    And that’s the litmus test for truly great, memorable writing – how many lines become part of the zeitgeist. How many withstand the test of time. Try to list your 10 favorite lines from films last year. Could you even name 10 quotable lines from the 9 nominated films? I’m willing to bet you can’t. But let’s try…

    “I’m doing this from the feet up.”

    “Falling in love is a socially acceptable form of insanity.”

    “I don’t want to survive. I want to live.”

    “I hate space.”

    “You’re nothing to me until you’re everything.”

    “Sell me this pen.”

    “You have my money taped to your tits. Technically, you do work for me.”

    “I’m the Captain now.”

    “I don’t want to hate people. I don’t want to be like you.”

    “I never knew the son of a bitch even wanted to be a millionaire! He should have thought about that years ago and worked for it!”

    Whew…10.  

    No offense but do ANY of those lines have the resonance of “You can’t handle the truth!” or “I ate his liver with a side of fava beans and a nice chianti” or “Mrs. Robinson, you’re trying to seduce me” or “The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn’t exist” or “They’re called boobs, Ed.” I don’t think so.  The lines from HER are the closest for me to being iconic.

    You want projects with truly deep, powerful writing where the screenwriter is celebrated, then watch the Independent Spirit Awards. Or attend the Nicholls Fellowship Winners Ceremony.

    You want Hollywood to celebrate screenwriters more, then they need to produce more ORIGINAL scripts written by FEWER writers. Until then, we’re all just cogs in the system and cogs don’t get celebrated. They just keep cogging away.

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